Our Food Choices

Nettle Soup

By Megan Nash – Kitchen Coordinator

At Embercombe we cook to nourish and to celebrate, as humans have done in cultures across the world for centuries. We are lucky enough to grow much of our food here, and there is a simple yet profound joy in cooking food grown on the land we love to feed people we love.

To really think about the food we eat, though, is to confront its inherent duality. It has at once the potential to be a beautiful statement of values or the stage on which harrowing damage to the natural world and to the most vulnerable people in it is played out. Facing the reality of British and world food politics and systems can be uncomfortable and disheartening; is it possible to feed ourselves in a way that brings us joy and nourishment without our planet or other beings paying the price?

These are the questions that, as the quieter winter months here have drawn in, we’ve been working to answer. A small team has begun taking a fresh and objective look at the ethics of our approach to food, deeply enquiring into the backgrounds of the products we buy and facilitating wider community discussions about the many different ways we could approach eating sustainably.

At the centre of our discussions has been an awareness of the equilibrium between the children’s fire (providing food that does not harm the children of this generation or seven generations hence), nourishment (giving everyone the energy and nutrients they need for their day), and financial viability (to find a way to live joyfully within our means, and provide an accessible or non-exclusive example of what is possible). As a largely plant-based kitchen, for example, many conversations have turned to how to source our protein in a way that also supports a shift to local, sustainable agricultural systems. In terms of nutrition and animal welfare pulses are wonderful, but they can be very difficult to grow in our climate, and importing them from all over the world is at odds with the desire to reduce our carbon footprint and support smaller, local and independent businesses.

So what are our options? While most pulses can be very difficult to grow in our climate, the fava bean is a heritage British pulse, and could be an unexpected hero. Historically a dietary staple, the fava bean dropped out of favour in the 18th century, stigmatised as a food of the poor as meat became more available and is now mainly exported as livestock feed. But they’re a delicious, nutty alternative to chickpeas which can be used to make humous, stews and curries. This year has also seen Embercombe’s first quinoa harvest, which as a complete protein represents a tasty and exciting step in our exploration of how we can provide for ourselves more fully.

Alongside a detailed examination of all the products we buy in, we’ve been looking more broadly at the topics of palm oil (initiating a blanket ban) and have been taking a fresh look at the emotionally charged and deeply nuanced topic of dairy (http://sustainablefoodtrust.org/articles/can-we-eat-meat-drink-milk-and-feed-the-world-sustainably/). We have been asking if there really is such thing as environmentally friendly, kind or ethical dairy, or whether we really need or want it at all. What, if we do decide we want it, would we need to know about its source to feel comfortable in this decision? We have planned to visit some possible dairy’s in the New Year in order to find some answers.

I feel remarkably grateful to live and work with people who welcome these sometimes difficult questions, and who approach conversations with open hearts and minds. All of these enquiries and decisions mark a move towards being a kitchen that empowers people and demonstrates the ways in which our food choices can not only avoid harming the planet but also support others, bring joy, and connect us more deeply to our